If you missed it, here is Part 1
Welcome back to Part 2 of our post on getting better pet photos!
First, my human, Hsin-Yi wants to add a little correction to what she said in Part 1 about turning off the flash: she was talking mostly about taking “portrait” type photos (you know, the posed ones when the humans like us doggies to sit & look at the camera machine and pull cute expressions ) – you really get horrible demon eyes if you don’t turn the flash off in those kinds of photos.
But yes, there are some times when you need the flash – especially if your humans are taking ‘action shots’ indoors, which is usually in artificial (low) light. Otherwise the pictures would be mostly blurry. But if they really have to use a flash, then try not to get us doggies looking head-on into the camera – better if our heads are turned slightly to the side – so that we don’t catch the flash straight into our eyes.
But still – Hsin-Yi stands by what she said – the BEST photos are taken in natural daylight. And for really good action shots, good daylight outside – that’s what gives you really crisp, clear pictures that really “capture the moment”. So if you have a choice, always take the action outside. For example, if my human wants to get pictures of me modelling a new collar or playing with my new toy, for a blog post, she’ll take me outside to give it to me – or at least right next to a big window letting in lots of natural light. Don’t choose to take the photos indoors if you can do them outdoors (well, unless you live in a glass house! )
These 2 pictures were taken immediately one after each other – except that the flash was turned off in the 2nd picture…see the difference?
If your pictures are blurry, then it’s usually because a) there isn’t enough light (you really need a LOT of light when there is any movement) or b) your camera machine isn’t “fast” enough – which does mean you need a ‘fancier’ camera machine (or to get technical, you need to have a faster “shutter speed” – so you need to adjust this but lots of everyday automatic small digital camera machines don’t let you adjust this easily). Since you can’t always have (b), it’s easier to control (a)! Yes, you can add more light by turning on your flash but rather than doing that, we think it’s better to turn the flash off and go outside, to get the extra light. There is always more “ambient” light outside in general. If you have to stay indoors, then Hsin-Yi would rather have extra lamps & stuff to add more light to the room, rather than use the flash…
Oh – don’t forget there is also a possible 3rd reason which is that (c) your humans are moving. If you move the camera machine when you press the shutter, the picture will be blurry too. A lot of people move more then they realise. So get your humans to practise holding really still when they press the shutter and if crouching down, sometimes it helps to rest their elbows on their knees or the sofa arm – something solid. If standing, then spread legs apart so that they are standing really solidly and not swaying from side to side!
OK, now I’m going to hand you back to Hsin-Yi for her to tell you the rest of our ‘photo tips’ – and then we’ve got some tips from the professionals!
Honey the Great Dane
(from my human, Hsin-Yi)
Beware the Background Bombs!
This is sort of related to “framing” your photo and it’s something that applies regardless of what kind of camera you’re using. I’ve seen people with fancy DSLR cameras take ‘so-so’ photos because they don’t frame the photos properly and don’t think about the background behind the subjects.
It’s also related to something that people often forget which is that YOU as the photographer need to move around: shift to the right, to the left, crouch down, try another angle to see if you can get a better shot. Your legs aren’t cemented down to the ground the minute you put the camera to your eyes – so move them!
Your subjects can’t see how they look in the phots so it is your responsibility to move around so that they are framed properly – rather than expecting them to move into perfect position. I sometimes see photographers telling people to move this way & that and their poor subjects are shuffling left & right, forwards & backwards, with their smiles becoming stiffer & stiffer on their faces…when all it would have taken was the photographer taking 1 step sideways himself to position them perfectly against the background. And especially when you’re dealing with animals – you certainly can’t get them to shuffle left & right on command! So once you’ve got your dog in a nice Sit, you have to be the one to move around him, so that you can adjust how the picture is framed.
Why is this important?
1) If your dog is against a ‘busy’ background, you won’t be able to see him as clearly – whereas if you just shift slightly to the left or right, he’ll suddenly be a lot clearer and it will be a better picture. And as an example, here’s a picture I randomly took of Honey last week: she was standing still, in exactly the same pose – all I did was take 1 step to the right in the 2nd shot – but as you can see, in the first picture, she is against the tree/bush behind her and you can’t see her very well – whereas in the second, she is clearly outlined against the green grass behind. (Also, speaking as an artist, it is always better not to have your subject bang right in the centre of the picture, “slicing the picture in half”, especially landscape shots – better to have them slightly right or slightly left of centre.)
This is also important if your dog is similar in colour to the background (eg. black dogs often have this problem) – then you can try shifting around until they are silhouetted more clearly. Even if they’re not dark, you can sometimes get more interesting/better pictures – for example, going back to the “crouching down” advice from Part 1, you can often do this to get your dog silhouetted against the sky and this can be a lovely effect.
I love taking pictures of Honey silhouetted against the sky…for example, in the picture below, I crouched down so that you could see Honey against the blue sky – if I had been standing up, she would beeen a bit ‘lost’ against the busy background of bushes & sand dunes behind (especially with her fawn coat)…
2) You don’t want to have a tree growing out of your dog’s head! Be aware of what is behind your dog and make sure there isn’t anything ridiculous sprouting out of his body. All it takes is a step to the side to adjust the shot. Here’s an example (again, not a great picture but it’s just to illustrate this post):
This applies also to humans – not just to avoid things growing out of your body but to avoid blocking important things behind you! Especially if you’re sightseeing and trying to get a shot with an important landmark… (I can tell you, there is nothing as frustrating as the time we asked another tourist to get a shot of me & Paul with the Eiffel Tower…only to find when we looked at the photo that they had taken it with us standing right in front of the Eiffel Tower, blocking it completely! All they had to do was step to the side slightly! )
This also applies to other things in the background which might “spoil” your picture. For example, here is a picture of Honey I took to illustrate this point – it’s a nice picture which is ruined by all those ugly “Restricted Parking” signs in the background, all crammed above Honey’s head…if I’d just stepped to the right a bit, I could probably have moved them out of frame and got her against a plainer background…
So when you look through the camera, don’t forget to look at the whole picture. Sometimes a small movement or adjustment can make a huge difference!
Work that Stay, baby!
It really does help to have a dog that will stay in one position – whether it is in a Sit Stay, a Down Stay or even a Stand Stay. So yet another reason to train your Stays!
No, seriously – I spend a LOT of time practising & proofing Honey’s Stays – partly because I believe it is a very important “skill” every dog should learn, as part of their everyday obedience, which makes them easier & more enjoyable to take out & about and more safely under control – but also because I love taking photos and I need a dog who will stay still & pose for me. So if you want to take better photos of your dog, it’s really worth you spending some time working on proofing & extending his Stays.
Just smile! (aka. Don’t micro-manage when posing with your dog!)
If you want to get nice pictures with your dog, JUST KEEP SMILING AT THE CAMERA!!!
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re trying to get a photo together with their pets is to keep fussing their dogs, trying to make them look at the camera, talking to them, looking down, pointing, calling…and you end up with pictures like these:
When it could have looked like this:
It is so frustrating when you’re the photographer taking the photos and you finally get the dog looking at you – and then the owner is either looking away or making an awful face or moving, therefore blurred…and ruined the perfect shot! I always end up yelling at people, “Don’t move! Leave the dog! Just keep smiling at the camera!”
Seriously, dogs don’t understand pointing. It is a waste of time you pointing at the camera and the more you fuss the dog, the more confused & excitable he is likely to get. Just get him to stay still next to you – and then look at the camera and smile! (Or if you don’t want to look at the camera, then at least look at your dog & smile. Trust me, people ALWAYS look better when they smile!)
Let the photographer do the work of getting the dog’s attention. Tell them to call the dog’s name just before pressing the shutter or make a funny noise (refer to ‘Magic Words & Sounds’ in Part 1) – basically, it’s their responsibility to get the dog to look towards them – if they wait long enough, the dog will usually turn his head – so you just need to keep smiling at the camera so that you’re all ready the minute the “perfect shot” arrives.
This is especially true when you’re taking a group photo of people together with their dogs. It doesn’t matter so much if not all the dogs are looking straight at the camera but it will matter more if some of the people aren’t (or are pulling a funny face!). A funny noise from the photographer can get all the dogs looking at him at once – and then it’s down to him to quickly press the shutter and catch that shot – but the humans need to all be ready, looking & smiling at the camera, so as not to “ruin” that moment.
Make like a Boy/Girl Scout (ie. Be Prepared)
Just like all those TV shows when an FBI agent walks into a creepy, dark place…have your finger on the trigger when you’re photographing your pets! This is especially true if your camera is one of those that needs you to press the shutter 1/2 way to get it in focus.
When I’m taking photos, I look through the viewfinder, press the shutter halfway to focus on Honey (whatever she is doing) and then wait: as soon as Honey looks up/looks at me/pauses…does something I want to capture, CLICK – my finger goes down. Then I instantly refocus and wait again. (If your dog moves further away or closer to you, you will also have to refocus)
It’s a bit like fishing, I guess – poised, waiting, with the net primed in position, ready to swoop down and grab the fish at just the right moment. But if you’re not in position, all ready, you’ll probably miss the fish/shot. Don’t wait until the dog is in the perfect pose and then raise the camera to your eye – it’s too late by then. You have to have your eye in the viewfinder, constantly following your dog as he moves around, and your finger on the trigger, ready to go.
It also means that you’re more likely to catch your dog looking at the camera naturally. In spite of what people say, most dogs do keep glancing at their owners every so often – so it’s just catching those moments.
Even if you’re walking on leash – I’ve heard people complain that all they get is a picture of their dog’s back, with the dog never turning to look at them, no matter how much they call… I personally would just have my camera ready, eye in the viewfinder, finger on the shutter – and then stop suddenly every so often – most dogs (unless they are terrible pullers) will feel the tension on the leash and also pause and glance back, as if to say “What’s the problem?” – and that’s when you can grab a great shot.
I’ve gotten a lot of good shots of Honey like this – especially as she will pause & look back at me if I stop, even if she isn’t on leash (she sort of always makes sure she stays a certain distance close to me – it isn’t something I’ve trained but just something she does naturally, I think because of our strong bond – so she is always checking back and making sure that I am keeping up with her if she is ahead and if I stop, she’ll pause, if I slow down, she’ll slow down, etc…)
One of our readers asked if I had learnt my stuff by going on a photography course or just by myself: to be honest, most things I just picked up myself from taking loads & loads of photos and just a bit of common sense, really. I did go on a short course ages ago but it was actually before I got my DSLR camera so all the info about focal lengths and aperture priority and shutter speeds was wasted on me really. The courses are great for teaching you all the technical details, things like shutter speed & ISO, etc, etc, (which is more relevant if you have a fancy camera) but the tips I have suggested are relevant regardless of what kind of camera you’re using. As I’ve said, you can be using the best camera in the world and if you don’t remember these points, you can still take rubbish pictures.
Of course, you will generally take “better” pictures with a more powerful camera, in that it will be sharper & clearer ‘coz the camera will be faster and capture more light – but there are things beyond the technical stuff which can still affect how good your pictures look and you can still make your photos look better, even if you don’t have a super fancy camera!
Well, I hope you’ve found those tips useful. And now, I’ll hand you back to Honey for some tips from the professionals!
I’m very lucky ‘coz some of my doggie friends, whose humans are professional pet photographers, have asked their humans to share some of their tips on my blog – so thank you so much, Emmet, Teal’c & Luna!
Custom Portraits by Charlene – Charlene Potts & Emmet the Great Dane (PITTSBURGH, USA)
(Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/customportraitsbycharlene )
I decided to share some of my older pictures of Emmet, which were shot when I was learning my camera and I was more of a ‘beginner.’ I hope this encourages your readers that everyone can get great pictures of their pets
My tricks for photographing pets:
I do whatever it takes to get my pup to look right into the camera lens, from making funny noises to saying his favorite words. The adorable head tilt can be a great little bonus of getting your pet interested by using favorite words! For example, if I say “Do you wanna…?” Emmet will assume that I’m going to say ‘go for a walk,’ or ‘eat,’ etc. Sometimes, If I simply say ‘cookie,’ I get that perfect eye contact and snap away. I love good eye contact in my pictures. It gives personality to our images that we know our pets have. Eye contact in a pet portrait allows people who don’t know your pet to see the ‘human-side’ of him/her, and it’s especially important when I’m photographing dogs or cats who are waiting to be adopted.
I take LOTS of pictures, just to get that ONE perfect shot. And it’s always, always worth it. Since digital photography became the norm, it’s virtually FREE to snap, snap, snap! My best friend shot this photo of Emmet and me at the beach; she took 1,232 photos in two days, and I fell in love with this one, and it was absolutely worth it! I have a 30″ x 40″ canvas gallery wrap of it hanging in my living room.
Use a fast shutter speed! For those of you who are familiar with or are becoming familiar with the manual mode of your cameras, a quick shutter speed is key when your subject is an animal. This ensures you get those stop-action photos and you lose the blur because your pet moved.
It’s very important that you shoot from your pet’s eye level. With that said, the only reason that those ‘from above’ photos work, is because I am still shooting directly into the dogs’ eyes and they are both focused on me. It’s a different kind of portrait idea, and gives you a different perspective if you’re generally shooting from your pet’s level. When you’re looking for a different perspective, you can try things like shooting from above, or even shooting from below! Works well with big Dane jowls
Make photographing your pet a fun project that you work on together, as a bonding experience. Do your very best to get your pet acclimated to the camera. Maybe he/she gets stressed when the camera comes out because that often means, “SIT. No, not there, here. Sit. Hey! Look here. Look at me! I said look!” Involve toys (squeaky toys can be life-savers for this!) and lots of small treats! As with training, I often give Emmet an ‘extra special’ treat for photo sessions, so that I know I have his full attention and he is happy to work towards getting rewarded. Don’t get frustrated if your pet doesn’t cooperate; embrace it and enjoy the goofy shots you get if they don’t quite understand the concept of striking a pose!
There are more pet images on my website, and I can be reached through the ‘contact’ page of my website, and I would love to hear from Honey’s readers, so please encourage them to ask questions or say hi!
IMC Photography & Designs – Ilka-Maud Czerny & Teal’c the Rescue Staffy (SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA)
(Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/IMCdesigns )
The first thing that came to mind when I thought about what to write is that you’ve got to have a lot of patience! Never forget you are trying to take pictures of an animal not of a person. It’s very hard to reason with a dog and even harder to reason with a cat. Well, perhaps that’s close to impossible!
I mostly take my pictures in the studio using flashlights. But you can experiment inside too! Just use a black bed sheet as a background and some reading lamps. With lighting it’s important to make sure that you only illuminate the dog and not the background. That way you stand a good chance that the background will stay black! Test everything using a big stuffed toy and only get your pet in once everything is ready. I do that, before a client comes I make sure everything is set using either a big stuffed animal or my dog but he’s used to it!
My secret for cute faces in dogs and even some attention from cats? I have perfected my bark. A very loud high pitched one or a deep more subtle one but coming from a human it ALWAYS gets their attention!
Lots of people have problems taking pictures of dogs, especially black ones, outside. That has nothing to do with being a bad photographer! Its all about the physics! The dog is very dark, the surroundings are very bright and neither an old fashioned film nor a modern digital camera can deal with such a wide spectrum! Only the human eye is sophisticated enough to see the whole range at the same time!
What can you do? Here are a few easy tips:
1. Always take pictures in the morning or the afternoon when the light is softest or on a slightly overcast day
2. Never at noon when the sun comes straight from above and the shadows get almost black!
3. Use the sun as a light source and position your dog accordingly
4. It can be nice to have the sun from one side that it makes one eye really bright and the other side stays dark (spot meter on the bright side the effect will be that the other side is extremely dark)
5. If you have a SLR camera and a flash you can adjust manually then set it to something like 1/3 and fire it with every picture it will brighten the foreground just a little bit!
6. On a SLR camera use the A stetting for aperture priority. That way you can set your depth of field the way you want it and the camera will give you the shutter speed automatically. (If the shutter speed goes under 1/30 of a second you will have to open up the aperture otherwise you won’t be able to hold the camera steady.
If you want to take some really nice pics of your dog outdoors then I think it is important not to take the whole family. For most dogs posing is not something they do every day and the more people around the more confusing it gets. I always tell my clients that we get the best results if they bring one person per pet. So the owner concentrates on the animal and I on the lighting and the camera. You want to take pictures of the animal and the owner? Then it is important for the person, after the dog is in position, not to talk just keep smiling either at the puppy or at the camera. The dog will settle eventually. You know all those pictures where that puppy is finally in the right position and the owner pulls a weird face? Always a shame.
I’m happy to have readers ask more questions.
Charlotte Reeves Photography – Charlotte Reeves & Luna the Great Dane (BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA)
(Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/charlottereevesphotography )
Availability of good light is the most important thing to consider when choosing a place to take photos. If you can, try and turn the flash off and select a fast shutter speed. Indoors is fine if there is an abundance of light from skylights, large windows or large sliding glass doors, however even if these are present, a fast moving dog can still pose a challenge, so reserve these settings for when the dog is calm, relaxed and not prone to sudden quick movements.
Outdoors is best for a good abundance of natural available light. The most ideal lighting conditions are in light shade; under an awning or veranda, under the shade of a tree (full shade, not part ‘dappled’ shade). This gives you plenty of light to work with, but no bright highlights and harsh shadows. Try and make backgrounds plain, uncluttered and neutral in tone – not overly bright (like a white wall in full sunlight) or completely dark (like the inside of a garage or a dark coloured wall in shade).
Ideally, in preparation for taking the photos, start off by doing some obedience work. Dogs who are well trained already are much easier to work with, as they are used to things being asked of them. Try and teach at least the sit, down/drop and stay, as these come in very handy.
If you are looking to get some nice portrait shots where the dog looks attentive, you need to get and keep their attention. Often treats are the best way to do this, however you can also use a favourite toy. The more attention they are paying to you, the better your shots will turn out. Whatever you do to get the dog’s attention, you need to be QUICK. Dogs move fast and often quite randomly, so be ready to catch them. If something stops working to attract their attention, don’t get frustrated or keep trying it, move onto something else. Always stay happy and keep things interesting to the dog. Once they have decided you are no longer interesting to them, it’s often hard to get their attention back again!
You might be interested in getting some candid shots of your dog too. The best thing to do is just act casual and follow them around, capturing the daily doggy things they do. Sometimes these moments result in the most natural shots however they can be harder to get as you need to move around with the dog and be quick with your camera.
I shoot in manual mode for full control over exposure, as I often find especially with black or white dogs, the automatic exposure the camera gives is not correct. I usually shoot with quite a shallow aperture – between F2 and F5.6. This allows me to use faster shutter speeds as dogs don’t often hold still for very long. I also like the shallow depth of field this creates. I am careful with the focus of the shot. If the shot is of the dog’s whole head/face, I always make sure the focus is on the eyes – the eyes always have to be sharp.
I don’t use special equipment just for dogs, other than my bum bag which houses treats and toys. My camera equipment is pretty standard and what you’d find in most portrait or wedding photographer’s bag. I use a Canon 5D body with three main lenses. The Canon 24-70mm F2.8 L-series is on the camera about 80% of the time and most of my shots are with this great lens.
I am in love with my 50mm F1.4 and this comes out every session when the light is failing and when the dog is nice and calm. I find the very large aperture on this lens extremely helpful in low light situations, however have to be careful with the shallow depth of field it creates as the focus point has to be spot on.
For action shots and ones when I am just ‘spying’ on the dog, watching it do doggy stuff, my Sigma 100-300mm F4 lens is great. It’s quite large so it never stays on the camera for long periods of time, but is quite sharp and very useful at it’s maximum aperture. I do have a pair of Canon Speedlite flashes however never use them on my doggy shoots and I shoot entirely using available light.
There – now you’ve had advice from the professionals too – so you have no excuse! I hope my 2 posts have given your humans some useful tips and inspiration for your next photo session.
If you have any tips that you would like to share too – (for example, thanks to Badger for his comment with great tips on photographing puppies, in Part 1!) – please don’t be shy and let us know in the comments below!
*My blog friends, Pallo & Koira the Flyball Dogs, also just did a great post on their blog about getting pets to pose for photos! You can check it out here.
Also, Charlene & Ilka have kindly offered to answer any more questions my readers may have – so leave your question in your comments or you can visit them on their websites/FB pages too.
PS. I’m so sorry – I STILL haven’t been able to come round to visit your blogs! My human is just having a really hectic time at the moment and getting stressy with “too much on her plate” – but I promise that we will catch up with you as soon as we can…so please bear with us and forgive us for being such lousy blog friends at the moment!
PPS. for people following Hsin-Yi’s new, own blog, she’s got a new post up! ‘When in Rome…’